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Friday, August 18, 2017

My Kindertrauma: Creepshow

Pretty much something from each element in this movie showed up in one childhood nightmare or another. Like all the other Kindertrauma in my life, I blame my mother. But not for the reasons you think.

She was attending college and took a class in horror movies. That meant trips to the video store and not caring if we were in the same room as her or not. There'll be more on this later, but thanks to her ambitions, I got exposed to several episodes of Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, Halloween, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and others. Bad enough I'd already been warped from VHS boxes and her Stephen King books. Ironic that I didn't realize this was another work of his until later.

The first scary image occurs after a boy has been yelled at by his father for that comic book trash (the titular "Creepshow") he keeps in the house. After being sent to his room, the "Creeper" appears outside the kid's window...

No, not that one... That's the attempt to make Joker into a superhero.
"Come to my window, crawl inside, wait by the light of the moon..."

The lightning flashes and there is he is, like a tall, grotesque grim reaper (or a burnt mannequin). And the kid smiles because he recognizes his savior. His God has come. It's a comfort to him, making the whole thing scarier. It made me not want to look at my window when going to sleep.

After this prologue is the Father's Day vignette. I remember the whole story felt a bit off, maybe because it's a slasher film sped up. The deaths don't have a lot of build up like they do in Friday the 13th or Halloween, where the fear is in the stalking. The most horrible part is the corpse itself, more rotted and filthy than any I've ever seen. This is not your father's blue zombies from Dawn of the Dead.

Jordy Verrill is the second story, and at this age, I didn't know what camp meant. Or redneck. I thought Jordy Verrill was a likable, lonely farmer. Not very smart, but well-meaning.

And then the creeping death starts to cover his shack. The kicker is that it's innocent grass, but it's growing like The Blob. It covers his fingers, his hand, his remote, it's unbearably itchy, unbearably alien. There's nothing worse than being killed by degrees.

After he takes a fateful bath as his last ditch attempt to cleanse himself, he can no longer move or breathe for being covered with the stuff. What I remember of the ending is that, after he positions the shotgun under his chin, the shot cuts away to the house and the blast is heard. So I must have seen the edited version. But that is scarier to me, because what you don't see is scarier than what you do. Also it's the dread of the fact that he had no other choice. That he goes out rasping, "Please... God... just this once." Haunting.

I knew Leslie Nielsen from The Naked Gun and Airplane movies my father showed me. Seeing him in a serious role itself is disconcerting. But add that he's a bad guy, torturing Ted Danson (also an eighties staple) by 1. forcing him to dig a hole in the sand 2. Bury himself in it 3. Before the tide comes in, inevitably drowning you (3½. Nielsen mentions he might be able to survive this... if he can hold his breath long enough; and little me thought this might be a possibility, making Danson's death sadder.) 4. While your wife's death on the other side of the beach plays live via CCTV. I hate these slow deaths of dread.

And then that's not enough -- the corpses come back, blue and bloated, covered with seaweed. They pursue Nielsen around the house until they corner him with a fade to black. The final shot? He's suffering the same fate as they did, buried up to his head while the tide comes in.

Now that I look back on it I have no idea why I was ever scared of it. It looks like a cheap gorilla mask someone left in the microwave. Maybe it's because the cinematography is about what you don't see. It's called The Crate. Not "The Monster in the Crate", just "The Crate". You don't see what's in it when a hapless janitor gets pulled in by a furry clawed hand and blood spurts out.

Then there's a twist where the henpecked guy gets a spine and drags his embarrassing alcoholic wife to it. You don't know if he's going to successfully get her down there. You don't know if you want him to. And then he's knocking on it, banging on it, and you expect him to be the one eaten because he's closer. Then there's a pause, nothing happens. Maybe the monster's not coming out. Maybe it's already escaped and it's behind him. But it jumps out, mugs for the camera, then drags her in like Audrey II.

Since the version I saw was edited, the cockroach story was removed for time so I have no memories of it. Even so, I strangely think this might have been the one story that wouldn't have scared me. I don't care about bugs unless they're on me and the Midwest has no cockroaches, just mosquitoes. The story was confusing anyway--not high concept enough.

So for me, Creepshow ended when the trashmen discover the comic book and see that someone's clipped out the "voodoo doll" coupon. Cut to Dad spontaneously choking in the kitchen while his son upstairs stabs the little straw doll in the neck. The little sociopath killing his own father while laughing maniacally. (BTW doesn't this kinda prove the dad's point?)

So yeah, start to finish, everything in this movie stayed with me. Jesus Christ, no wonder I'm warped.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Satellite Salespeople Douchebags

So my wife was recently calling around to satellite companies (like Dish Network and Direct TV) trying to find a replacement for Mediacom and it's crappy customer service (newsflash: there is no suitable replacement - it's a monopoly).

But the ineptitude of the people she was talking to was astounding. All she had was two questions: What's their fastest speed and are they available in our area. Yet she had to spend hours on the phone with them while they checked out packages and deals and twenty-four hour sales that absolutely had to be gotten at this very moment or you'll regret it forever.

I don't get it. We live in a day and age where we can see through the bullshit. How do companies still think this kind of hard sell, with fast talk and dealing days, doesn't turn customers off? The worst part was this exchange.

SALESMAN: So as part of the deal, let's just check your credit score... [what this has to do with anything, I don't know] ... wow... wow... your credit score is really high. Really high.

MY WIFE: Uh-huh.

SALESMAN: Wow, you should be proud of that.

MY WIFE: Uh-huh.

SALESMAN: ... well, aren't you proud of that.

MY WIFE: Not really.

SALESMAN: Aren't you happy about that?

MY WIFE: Not really. Because I've been on the phone with you for two hours and I'm tired of talking to people.


I love it. The salespeople are totally caught off-guard when you give them something real. Something that means the person they're talking to on the other end isn't just a wallet-holder. And besides, why would we feel proud for something we're supposed to have. You're supposed to pay your debts. I figure it's because he sees so much trailer trash trying to get something for nothing.

But man, these guys give the HARD sell. We are perfectly capable of making our decisions -- we contrast and compare and analyze -- and part of that skill means cutting through the bullshit. We know this deal isn't on it's last day. We know what "lightning fast" means and that this is not it. We know the value of a dollar. And dollars can be used to purchase goods and services.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

My Kindertrauma: Large Marge

Probably the definition of true kindertrauma. I can't think of anything more iconic than this nightmare fuel. I remember distinctly fast-forwarding through this part when I watched in on VHS. It was just too scary. It's bad enough that stop-motion is creepy-looking as hell (see House on Haunted Hill for a great example). There's not much I can say about it that hasn't been said. Let's break it down, see if that helps.

The movie's had some dark areas up to this point, but nothing ridiculous. Pee Wee hitchhikes with a criminal, but has to dress in drag to get past a road block. There's a few odd visual gags like the creepy clown and Francis Buxton drooling black liquid. Eyebrow-raising, but nothing traumatizing. After a jumpscare that's not really jumpy involving some headlight glasses and cartoon eyes, ominous music starts as lights slowly fade up on a mack truck. Bad enough we spent the eighties learning about how dangerous hitchhikers were -- either being one or picking one up -- but we were about to find out why.

The lady in the truck could be a lunch lady or a grocery cashier or a grandma. Except for that grim look on her face. With no prompting, she speaks for the first time. "On this very night, ten years ago..." sounding like she smokes ten packs a day (and back in that time, smoking was cool. Just ask Joe Camel.) I didn't even understand the metaphor she was using (a garbage truck... dropped off the Empire State Building) but I could hear the tone of her voice, see the lifelessness in her eyes, the gray and black fog as if traveling the river Styx. And then...

"It looked...


The face doesn't even look like a car accident victim. It's some goofy eye-bulging, tongue-wagging cartoon thing, like bootleg Looney Tunes. But the fact that it's only half a second, that it's uncanny valley stop motion, that you aren't expecting it, makes it the worst Kindertrauma I ever seen.

And the icing on the cake is when Pee Wee enters the truck stop and says "Large Marge sent me". Everything stops. This is a movie called Pee Wee's Big Adventure, essentially a Saturday Morning children's program where the whiz-bang sound effects and colorful visuals never stop. No one says a word. It turns out SHE was the worst accident she'd ever seen. And that Pee Wee was riding with...

...her GHOST!

Thursday, August 03, 2017

I Learned Some Bad Lessons About Love from The Wonder Years

I don't know what all this business about family togetherness and keeping fingers of phones at the table is about. My family watched TV at dinner. From six o'clock to seven, pre-prime time, were all the syndicated sitcoms from the house that Generation X built. Murphy Brown, Designing Women, America's Funniest Home Videos, Empty Nest, Growing Pains, Night Court. And The Wonder Years.

I didn't know it at the time, but The Wonder Years was for my parents what The Goldbergs is for me -- a sitcom that capitalizes on nostalgia and trying to convince oneself that the pop culture was more meaningful than it was (in this case, that the sixties were about more than sex and drugs).The difference is there's less melodrama. This was one part of the The Wonder Years appeal.

The other is Kevin, the thirteen-year-old boy trying to make sense of all this history unfolding. The observer watching the toxic masculinity of his older brother, the victimization of his sister, the semi-abusive father, and the oblivious, ignorant mother. This basically means Kevin's on his own when it comes to figuring things out, because everyone else is setting a bad example. This unfortunately extends into his love life and his series-long goal -- Winnie Cooper. She was his childhood friend until she showed up at the bus stop having grown bangs overnight. And boobs.

The series is all about Kevin's attempts to make Winnie love him. Kevin + Winnie is the OTP of this series. What that means is that any time Kevin is not attempting to woo Winnie -- e.g. one of the handful of episodes where he's paired with another girl -- it's all a mistake. It's a plot to make Winnie jealous or another bump in the road to realize he's taken a wrong path. A little filler. A little drama to stretch out the series.

The Wonder Years left me with a terrible impression of how love/romantic relationships work. In fact, I think it may have influenced me in a terribly negative way, such that if this show didn't exist, I probably would have had a more positive high school experience. At least one without so much trauma. Because, at my tender age of seven to nine, this is where you start taking things to heart. The whole point of the show was that Kevin was doing things wrong because he was a kid. But I didn't know that at the time.

Here are the fundamentals of what I learned. If you like a girl, never ADMIT you like her. To anyone. Watch her from afar. Send her notes. Put her on a pedestal. That's romantic. It's better to pine for a woman than to actually treat her as a human being. Life is about waffling back and forth. Expect her to say no at first. Expect her to change her mind because she's confused. That's okay, she's just searching for the right answer (which is you). Never define that line between friends and lovers. Because that's scary (and too conclusive). And as Daniel Stern might have said before a fade to black, as you get older, communication gets more... complicated.

No, idiot. YOU made it complicated. Because you're a fucking coward. Here, let's take a look at some prime examples from a few episodes.

"On the Spot"/"Our Town"

This is the one where Winnie's the star of the school play "Our Town" and all Kevin gets to do is run the spotlight. But at the end, he realizes his job is to shine the spotlight her, to let everyone know her beauty. She's the perfect one, the shining star. That's the man's job--stay in the tower and watch her. Never interact with her.

"Night Out"

Kevin and Winnie go to make-out party. Apparently this was a thing in the sixties. I guess it's a boy-girl party where you go into a closet and kiss (and maybe more?) and everyone else... waits? Are they listening in? Does everyone have their dicks out, jerkin' it to the sound of smacking? Thank god we invented the Internet. Now we just have rainbow parties. But at my impressionable age, it was as fascinating as a toilet. I think it might hold the record for biggest tension as the episode goes through several stages.

First, Kevin worries about the oncoming party. Then he gets there, and everything seems normal. Just dancing and snacks. Then the party-thrower (who is known for these kinds of mature shenanigans) turns out the lights and says the games will now begin. He rotates in place, his flashlight passing over everyone. Just when Kevin and Winnie realize get cold feet and try to leave, he shines on them. This teaches me that the nail that sticks up gets knocked back down.

Then when they're shoved into this closet, filled with nerves, as people stand just beyond, only a thin piece of wood and shag carpet between them, they stare at each other. But this is it--the first real kiss. Just as Kevin leans forward, Winnie escapes. Embarrassment and humility abound. Lesson learned? "Making out" is sacred and should be done with as little communication as possible.

"St. Valentine's Day Massacre"

Previously on "The Wonder Years", Kevin spent the last twenty-two minutes moping over his singlehood because his best friend and ex are getting together. Talk about a ratings grabber. But Paul lets slip that Winnie still has feelings for Kevin. Previously mopey Kevin bounds over to her house and confronts her with the knowledge, all joyous and happy like he won the big game. "Paul just told me -- you're crazy about me!" "Paul told you?" SLAM!

That was before. Now how to fix this? Well, he COULD talk to her about it, apologize or give her some space or reflect on what it is he actually wants from himself instead of a girlfriend. Or he could shove a cheap valentine in her locker. And then get the wrong locker. Genius. Doesn't even matter that it's the locker of Kevin's ex-girlfriend, we can stop there, that's enough.

Life lesson? Never talk to a girl. Communicate through notes. After that point? The ball's in her court. Only interact with her when you know you can do no wrong in her eyes. And if you do, that's the time NOT to confront her. Solution? Leave a note for her. And then she'll fix it herself. No need to actually interact. These things work themselves out.


This one was a big one for me. Kevin earns the ire of the school bully by defending Winnie's honor. But it turns out Winnie is ACTUALLY dating the school bully (I'm now getting the sense that Kevin is Forrest Gump and Winnie is Jenny. It even takes place in the same time period.)

Of course, there's a big final showdown in the parking lot. Tension, tension, tension. And Kevin throws the first punch, connecting with the bully's... shoulder. Kevin gets the crap beaten out of him, contradicting decades of romantic literature. With the help of Paul and Winnie, he limps home. What does this teach? Throw yourself in front of the train to protect the girl you love. Nothing is more noble. Especially when she's making a bad decision. And you don't even have to talk to her.

"Heartbreak" / "Denial"

Winnie's moved all the way across town. I have no idea where Kevin and Winnie are in their relationship at this point. In fact, that was a recurring problem. Since I saw them in syndication, they were always in a perpetual state of not really being together. I also have no idea why the parents bothered moving just across town. What a stupid expense and stupid way to breed tension.

Anyway, both their schools are going to the Natural History Museum. But Kevin gets jealous seeing Winnie with her friends from the other school. There's that jealousy again. Such an admirable trait, being possessive. No one should get to share your little toy.

In fact, Winnie's not just integrating with new friends, but her new boyfriend is there as well. Will Kevin nut up and move on? Will Kevin accept her decision and accept his value as a human being without a girlfriend? No! Of course not! He's going to throw a party and try and get back together with Winnie there.

But how to do it? Take her aside and tell her honestly how he feels? No! Kevin's going to go with his ex-girlfriend, Madeline (who?), the sultry temptress that ACTUALLY LIKES HIM and make Winnie jealous. (A lot of his plotting involves making Winnie jealous).

That's the other thing. Girls are always throwing themselves Kevin. I remember in the beginning of one episode Kevin, Paul, Becky*, and some nerdy girl who was Paul's girlfriend were on the couch in the basement, making out. This was an amazing thing. Kevin was supposed to be Charlie Brown -- the guy who never gets the red-haired girl. That he had actually succeeded, forget that it had nothing to do with Winnie, was mind-blowing to nine-year-old lovelorn me. He made it. Girls actually liked him. Attractive girls. I still want to kick him in the nuts to this day for not appreciating how good he had it.

*I don't think it was coincidence that Becky Slater was played by Danica McKellar's real life sister. As attractive as Winnie was (I still have a thing for brunette with bangs), Becky's personality was stronger. She was the "right Winnie" for Kevin. But some motherfuckers always gotta be ice-skating uphill.

"The Accident"

As if it wasn't creepy enough, this episode ends with Kevin staring at Winnie through her bedroom window. This is after she was in a car accident. This is after Winnie had been flirting with boys three or four grades above her. This is after she was staring at her old house in the night. And THIS is after breaking up with her boyfriend. She's acting like she's on drugs or contemplating suicide.

But being CLEARLY told by her parents that "she doesn't want to see him right now" doesn't stop Stalker Kevin. He shows up to mouth "I love you" to her. Because it's clearly all about him. It doesn't matter how she feels, Kevin has to express his undying devotion. They called this the best episode of the series.

"Summer"/"Independence Day"

The finale. I never saw how The Wonder Years ended until now, when I watched it on Netflix. But I sure as hell remember hearing about it. However, I had moved on from the show and I think something else had replaced it in the dinner time syndication time slot. It sure doesn't stray from its roots. Its creepy, rapey, stalker roots.

Kevin quits his stable job at his father's furniture factory to work at a country club because Winnie has a job there as a pool lifeguard. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. He gets a job as a waiter, but mostly just watches her. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. Oh, I already said that.

Winnie kisses someone else and Kevin punches him out. They both get fired and have to hitchhike back home (after having been kicked out of a car for bickering too much). It all ends when they're stuck in a barnhouse, confess their fear of the future and its changes, and it's implied they lose their virginity to each other. I hope you all are taking notes, men.

My god, why aren't more articles written about this. Did anyone vet this show? Sure it's all cute when an eleven-year-old kid hides behind the shield of baby boomer nostalgia. Oh, he's such a puppy dog -- all awkward and stumbly, trying to find his way in the world. But some of us could have used a little more deconstruction. We could have used some female characters with more agency. They aren't puzzle boxes to figure out. 

The only good part is that the narration at the end puts a nice epilogue on the relationship. Kevin goes to college. Winnie studies art history in France. And when they see each other again, it's a decade later. Kevin is married to Not-Winnie and has an eight-month-old son. It's a shining light showing that, although we are the products of our past, we don't have to let it define us. We can change. The world we're surrounded by doesn't have to tie us down. We can open a different door.

But he should have gotten kicked in the nuts a few more times.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

How to Fix Supergirl the TV Series

I do seem to like to talk about Supergirl. So hey, why not some more. And it gives me a reason to put up pretty pictures.

So Supergirl the TV series started on CBS, the network for senior citizens, then moved to CW, the network for fresh-faced teens. Went from Wheel of Fortune to Dawson's Creek.

I watched the first season and the first five episodes of the second season. I wanted to get into it, I really did. But the characters stopped me. Don't get me wrong -- Melissa Benoist is a delight. She's like Emilia Clarke -- she's charming as hell and I'd follow her, dragons and all. She's the reason I kept watching as long as I did. It's everyone else that sucks. They're so milquetoast. We've got boring tech geek, boring heartthrob love interest, boring stiff military commander, boring sister who suddenly decided she was a lesbian at thirty years old, boring snippy Ally McBeal.

"Poor supporting" cast joke here

Actually, the best of the cast was Calista Flockhart. But even then, I couldn't stand her bitchy character giving bitch-vice to Kara Danvers* in the form of not-mentorship. "Listen to me -- I'm world-wise but everything is beneath me and everyone hates me. I'm female Donald Trump. You too could be like me if you follow my five simple steps." In other words, none of these are people I would want to hang out with. I don't want to let them into my home for an hour each week.

The other reason was because the life of a young woman moving from the country to the city to "make it" was just not interesting to me. For one thing, that's Superman's story. Like it's the exact same thing, how to balance work (superheroing) and life. I've seen it. Add in uninteresting villains (Maxwell Lord is just Lex Luthor AGAIN. And Aunt Alura is just General Zod AGAIN -- dress them up all you want, but at the end of the day, Lord is a rich genius CEO who thinks the hero is a threat and the other is a military commander escaped from the Phantom Zone).

Here's my solution. Be more like Buffy.

The magic of Supergirl is not that she's Superman in a skirt. It's that she's fresh off the boat. She's a true alien. She doesn't know what's going on, what Earth culture is like. She's been in a bubble for the last thirteen years, so it becomes like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, only more serious (and actually unbreakable). So you get moments like this...

It'd be a fine line to tread on the "Born Sexy Yesterday" tropes, but as long as Kara is living for herself, not some man, you can do it.

In the beginning of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy was trying to make her life normal while the abnormal kept treading in (thanks to the Hellmouth plot generator). There's a call to heroism that she's trying to ignore, but can't (because as Spider-Man said, if you let bad things happen when you can do something about it, you're no better).

Do the same thing here. Give Supergirl some equally downtrodden friends. Not a guy who's got Superman in his cell phone. Not the army-man who can't crack a smile and really a Martian warrior. She needs a Xander and a Willow. Her antagonists shouldn't be her bosses, it should be a contemporary. An equal. The person she wants to be. Like Cordelia. And sure, throw in an Angel in there too. Why not? Who doesn't like forbidden love? Sure, make him full of kryptonite. I don't care.

Most of all, we need a mentor. Now Captain Obvious says that should be Superman. He's the one who's been here the longest, he knows how to handle his superpowers, and he was raised here, so he knows Earth customs. But that would be a hard sell. If Superman's in the show... why not make the show ABOUT Superman? Plus the fact that Superman can do anything Supergirl can do, but better. And the fact that it's actually HIM who needs something from Supergirl. She's only one with knowledge of his planet, the only tie to his heritage. He needs her to teach him about where he came from.

Besides, does this not look like a set from Buffy? And they both were on the same network.
No, Supergirl needs a Giles. Someone who can educate her, but cannot do what she can do. I don't know who that might be, since part of Supergirl's character is that there's no one else like her (save her cousin). J'onn J'onzz would be a good candidate, if you can loosen him up a bit. The problem is he's so stiff, I want Supergirl to skip class and go to the mall. He becomes the antagonist, not the guru. Supergirl needs someone to serve a father-daughter relationship. That's a conflict full of story and strength. And more fascinating than the mother-daughter relationship with Kat.

And it definitely SHOULD NOT be a mother-son thing, which is what I was seeing from the Mon-El thing when I left. They did it the total opposite what I wanted. No one wants to see SuperDouchebag hitting on girls or using his superpowers for selfish reasons while Young Kara Danvers tries to prevent his shenanigans. She shouldn't be caretaking a twenty-year-old when she's cultivating her own life.

So yeah, Supergirl. A great concept, but executed in a tired, uninspired way. Just like all the other DC superheroes became, like The Flash (which is just Spider-Man but got too hung up on the relationship, just like the movies) and Arrow (which is just Batman, but got too grimdark and too unrealistic).

Also, Streaky. Gotta put the cat in there. Who wouldn't watch a show with a super-cat?

*I literally forgot what her secret identity name was for a moment, just like Calista Flockhart's running gag in the show. Was it Kat? No, that was Flockhart's character. Was it Laura? Lara? K-something. Kal-El? No, that's Superman. Her last name was Danvers. Carol Danvers? No, that's Ms. Marvel. I had to look it up on IMDB. Kara! I was close.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Disney Princes: Brom Bones

Brom Bones

First Impression: He races through town on a horse (foreshadowing) terrorizing the townspeople, but evoking laughs from his friends. He pops the top on a keg so they all can drink, but also makes sure the dogs and horses get a taste. Talk about a Save the Cat/Pet the Dog moment. One gets the impression that, in this village where how well you can run a farm is valued, Brom is top of the pops. How much consideration he has for the fellows around him is variable though.

Appearance: He's got the sinewy biceps of Gaston and the silky voice of Bing Crosby and the lantern jaw of a superhero. Might need to update his haircut though.

Intelligence: Above expectations, as one would expect for the musclebound. There's not much evidence of book-learning, so don't expect to bring him to Shakespeare in the Park on your date. But one hopes he doesn't dismiss aspirations of wisdom.

Job/Source of Income: Don't discount the fact that he's a blue collar worker. This was a valued occupation in this time of America's youth. And I fully expect him to make something of himself, if not through who he knows than through hard work.

Sense of Humor: He's a brute, but he's jovial. Loves a good practical joke. Problem is, that kind of humor is antiquated. But he can spin a good yarn.

Critical Fault: Good ol' boy. He'd be the first to dodge a statutory rape charge. It's not a terribly feminist film.

Dat bustle tho

Quality of Sidekick: This cartoon's too short for Brom to get a proper sidekick. Everyone in town's a little bit his crony, so maybe if you lump them all together? Or maybe you can call Katrina Van Tassel his sidekick? Except instead of a toady, she's playing with his heart? I dunno, I'm reaching here.

Relatability: Hard to judge. The only other female in this short is a stuck-up rich girl who doesn't speak. So if you're a sorority sister, consider this an all-points bulletin. On the other hand, he does get into some hapless shenanigans and slapstick, and that's always good for sympathy.

Talent: Stay close by him to make friends and advance your influence among the little people while you use your money to ensnare the elites. I have no doubt Katrina and Brom went on to control the town after their marriage.

Does he have a name? First and last. Above the median for Disney princes